Skift Take

Business travelers love saving two or three hours of flying time. They'll surely love United's new nonstop. But for everyone else, 18 hours is a long time to spend on an airplane. Even a 787.

Want to spend 18 hours on a Boeing 787 flown by a U.S. airline?

You’ll now have the chance, with United Airlines announcing Thursday it will launch what’s likely the longest route ever flown by a U.S. carrier. Starting Oct. 27, United will fly a Boeing 787-9 nonstop from Los Angeles to Singapore, a distance of 8,770 miles, according to the website Great Circle Mapper.

It’s more than 300 miles farther than the current longest U.S. airline route — United’s year-old flight from San Francisco to Singapore. When it starts, it’ll be the longest Dreamliner route of any airline, and the world’s third-longest on any aircraft. It’ll also be the longest flight from the United States to anywhere, farther than Qantas’ nonstop from Dallas to Sydney.

Passengers will fly 17 hours and 55 minutes westbound, and 15 hours 15 minutes eastbound. The new nonstop should save time for many passengers since many North American travelers now must layover in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei to reach Singapore, one of the world’s finance capitals.

But do United’s customers want to fly for so long?

“The answer is definitely yes,” Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president for international planning, said in an interview. “We are saving valuable travel time for our corporate travelers and we believe in it.”

This is not the first time an airline has flown nonstop between Singapore and Los Angeles. But much has changed since 2013, when Singapore Airlines dropped the route after more than a decade, saying its four-engined Airbus A340 was no longer a cost-effective aircraft. When it operated, the Los Angeles flight was the world’s second-longest, behind Singapore’s now-defunct nonstop from Newark.

Different market conditions

Fuel is cheaper now, and over the past four years, airlines have been testing longer flights, mostly on the 787 and other two-engined extended range aircraft, such as the Boeing 777LR. In many cases, airlines calculate customers will pay a premium for a nonstop when none was possible before, even if it means they will spend nearly a day on an airplane.

United’s lengthy route is impressive, but this trend means it won’t operate the world’s longest Dreamliner route for long. In March, Qantas will launch a longer flight with its Boeing 787-9, a nonstop from Perth to London. No airline ever has been able to regularly fly nonstop from Australia to Europe, but the 787 makes it possible. Great Circle Mapper pegs the route at 8,997 miles.

In addition, Singapore has said it plans to start new nonstops from Los Angeles and New York next year, when it receives its first Airbus A350LR, a special long-range aircraft. It’s possible it might start the Los Angeles route earlier with a sub-optimal aircraft, as it did last year in San Francisco. After United announced its plans, Singapore rushed to start its own flight, using a regular A350, instead of the not-yet-available long-range version.

United’s 787-9 isn’t the perfect aircraft either. The new Singapore route will test the 787’s range, as Boeing estimates the aircraft configured with 290 seats can fly roughly 7,635 nautical miles, or 8,786 regular miles. United has slightly fewer seats, with 252.

But just as a car performs differently depending on how its driven, an airline seeking to squeeze extra range from an aircraft can usually do so. A carrier might not sell every seat, making the aircraft lighter and capable of flying longer distances. It might also not carry cargo for the same reason.

Quayle said United might block some seats or accept less cargo on some days. But he said United now has a year’s worth of data from San Francisco-Singapore, and it’s confident the aircraft can fly from nonstop Los Angeles.

“This is a farther mission but we have had great performance and all that operating experience under our belts,” he said.

Recently, OAG ranked the world’s current longest flights based on distance. We’ve added the new United and Qantas routes for context, but otherwise all routes will be active as of June 2017, according to OAG. Here’s the list. 

World’s Longest Airline Routes

Airline Route Distance in nautical miles Aircraft
Qatar Airways Doha-Auckland 7,843 Boeing 777-200LR
Emirates Airline Dubai-Auckland 7,664 Airbus A380
Qantas * Perth-London 7,818 Boeing 787-9
United Airlines** Los Angeles-Singapore 7,620 Boeing 787-9
Qantas Airways Dallas/Fort Worth-Sydney 7,452 Airbus A380
United Airlines Singapore-San Francisco 7,330 Boeing 787-9
Singapore Airlines Singapore-San Francisco 7,330 Airbus A350
Delta Air Lines Atlanta-Johannesburg 7,329 Boeing 777-200LR
Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi-Los Angeles 7,278 Boeing 777-200LR
Emirates Dubai-Los Angeles 7,233 Airbus A380
Saudi Arabian Airlines Los Angeles-Jeddah 7,227 Boeing 777-300
Qatar Airways Los Angeles-Doha 7,204 Boeing 777-200LR
Emirates Airline Dubai-Houston 7,083 Boeing 777-300ER

*The Qantas route starts in March 2018.
** United’s route starts in October 2017.

Source: OAG and Skift


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Tags: dreamliner, singapore airlines, ultra long haul flying, united airlines

Photo credit: United Airlines soon will start flying nonstop from Los Angeles to Singapore using a Boeing 787 aircraft. United Airlines

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